Asthma is a chronic disease that affects about
It’s not clear what causes asthma. Some factors that could contribute to its development are:
Researchers continue to study whether antibiotics can help treat asthma symptoms. Read on to learn how antibiotics work and what researchers have found so far.
Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria and inhibit their growth. The discovery of antibiotics revolutionized modern medicine. In just over 100 years since antibiotics were first discovered, human lifespans have increased by 23 years.
Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral, fungal, or parasitic infections. Research suggests that bacterial infections play a minor role in asthma flare-ups, while viral infections play a major role.
Doctors try to avoid prescribing unnecessary antibiotics because they can cause side effects and contribute to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance occurs when drugs designed to kill certain strains of bacteria lose their effectiveness.
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A short-term worsening of asthma symptoms is called an asthma attack, flare-up, or exacerbation. In theory, antibiotics could help kill bacteria that contribute to asthma flare-ups. However, bacterial infections appear to account for only a small percentage of flare-ups.
The risks of overprescribing antibiotics for asthma can, in many cases, outweigh the benefits. And the researchers didn’t find enough evidence to justify prescribing antibiotics outside of specific situations, like a confirmed bacterial infection.
In a 2017 study examining medical records from 100 women in the hospital, researchers found that respiratory infections caused nearly three-quarters of asthma flare-ups.
About half of these women were prescribed antibiotics, but only 7% of them tested positive for bacterial infections. Women prescribed antibiotics stayed in hospital an average of 2.35 days longer, but both groups of women had good outcomes.
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The researchers found a limited amount of evidence that antibiotics given during a flare-up can lead to more symptom-free days, but results have been mixed across studies. The researchers had low confidence in the results.
When are antibiotics recommended?
Antibiotics can help asthma symptoms in people with a confirmed respiratory bacterial infection. Types of bacteria associated with asthma flare-ups include:
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
- Haemophilus influenzae
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Chlamydia pneumoniae
- Moraxella catarrhalis
The antibiotic is azithromycin
- Global Initiative on Asthma
- European Respiratory Society/American Thoracic Society
- British Thoracic Society
Early exposure to antibiotics, particularly antibiotics used to treat respiratory infections, can lead to an increased risk of asthma later in life.
There are four main types of drugs used to treat asthma. They include:
- Medication for quick relief: Drugs for quick relief are usually given through an inhaler and are only used to treat asthma attacks. These include short-acting, rapid-acting beta2-agonists and anticholinergic bronchodilators.
- Controller Drugs: These medications are used to correct long-term swelling and excess mucus in your airways. These include anti-inflammatories, anticholinergics, and long-acting bronchodilators.
- Combination of quick relief and control drugs: These drugs relieve asthma symptoms in the short and long term. However, they have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this purpose.
- Biologics: Doctors may prescribe biologics when other treatments aren’t working or to control a specific trigger. These drugs reduce inflammation by targeting proteins made in your immune system called antibodies.
Avoiding asthma triggers can also help you manage the symptoms. Common triggers are:
- intense exercise (but avoiding exercise altogether is not recommended)
- temperature extremes
- some medications, such as aspirin
- Smoke, pollution, fumes and other airborne irritants
- Allergens such as pollen, house dust mites or animal hair
Most medical guidelines do not recommend antibiotics to treat asthma unless asthma is unresponsive to other treatments or laboratory test results confirm a bacterial infection.
Respiratory tract infections are a common trigger for asthma flare-ups, but viruses appear to cause most infections. Unnecessary use of antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance and cause side effects.